Young alumni spotlight: D.A. Whatley

Coming to BU as a Posse scholar, D.A. Whatley (Questrom’15) was no stranger to building strong communities. Posse, a national organization providing college scholarships to “individuals with extraordinary leadership potential,” was founded on the belief that “a small, diverse group of talented students—a Posse—carefully selected and trained, can serve as a catalyst for individual and community development.” Chosen as one of ten from a group of over 700 applicants, D.A. was the first in his family to attend college and the first to venture from Atlanta to do so. Attributing this desire to expand his horizons to his natural curiosity fostered by constant encouragement from his parents, he came to BU ready to make a difference inside and outside the classroom.

Hitting the ground running

D.A. hit the ground running, and within weeks of stepping on campus, was elected Vice President of Warren Towers’ Residence Hall Association and won. It was his hope this role would allow him to make everyone’s “home away from home as welcoming as possible.” But what began as community building in his dorm quickly expanded to community building across campus. As a newly elected student government senator, D.A.’s says his biggest accomplishment was the successful passage of BU’s first gender-neutral housing policy. The proposal, co-authored with fellow student senators Caitlin Seele (Questrom’14) and Natalie Siddique (CAS’14), made clear that “no one should feel uncomfortable in university housing. No student should feel unwelcomed while living on campus. And, above all, no student should ever feel unsafe in their own home here at Boston University.”

D.A.’s desire to help the student body didn’t, and couldn’t, stop with his work on the housing policy proposal. He was soon elected to the student government’s executive board as the Vice President of Finance which carried with it a seat on the Allocations Board, overseeing the distribution of over half a million dollars in funds to undergraduate student groups. Calling it an “eye-opening experience,” D.A. found that his “black and brown classmates felt the board chose not to allocate funds to their organizations, favoring more notable groups on campus.” While he noticed that it was indeed difficult for niche groups and cultural organizations to receive funding, his involvement solidified his belief that there were faults on both sides of the issue.

A firm believer in leadership through empowerment, D.A. was convinced that the best way to resolve this misunderstanding was through education. Advocating on behalf of smaller groups, he explained the cultural significance of each event proposal and advised the Allocations Board on the best way forward when they were unsure why a particular space or event attribute was necessary. He then made his way to each club and organization requesting funding and, using skills honed at Questrom, worked with them to design more effective pitches. “This is what the board is looking for; this is why other groups get money and you don’t.” They took this feedback and ran with it, literally. Thinking beyond individual pitches, group members began running for seats on the Allocations Board in the hopes of increasing its diversity across race, religion, and cultural heritage. What started as a spark, quickly became a fire, as students began to feel empowered to self-advocate in a space where they once felt unwelcome.

Getting involved with Class Gift

After taking time during his sophomore and junior years to focus on his studies at Questrom, D.A. was approached by several young alumni his senior year who encouraged him to get involved in the Class Gift program. Convinced this was another way to advocate for student groups across campus, D.A. jumped in feet-first and became the Co-Chair of the 2015 Class Gift Committee. “I wanted to challenge student groups and student leaders who often complain that BU doesn’t care about minorities or their communities. Why do you feel that way? What can we do to change that? I wanted them to build a legacy of philanthropy in their organization so that current students and alumni alike understood the importance of giving back.” The 2015 Class Gift Committee set a new record for the most gifts from graduating seniors, though D.A. is happy to hear that subsequent classes have raised the bar to new heights. His committee also established the Clubs & Organizations challenge on Giving Day which encouraged students and alumni to give back to student groups that impacted their time at BU. Little did D.A. know that four years later, he would spearhead the same challenge on a scale much larger than he had ever imagined.

In the spring of 2017, as he was planning a wedding to fellow terrier Brittney Page Whatley (CFA’16), working full-time as an integrations consultant at Workday, and staying involved as an alumni mentor with student groups like BU’s Black Business Students Association, D.A. received a call he wasn’t expecting. Asked to be the Chair of the newly established Boston University Young Alumni Council (BUYAC), D.A. knew this role would be one of his most important yet. “I have so many great relationships, and I have gotten so much feedback from other alumni, I want people to know they are being heard.” He was also clear about his expectations for the Council: “I wanted a diverse board – and not just a board that looked like me. I wanted young and old, men and women, local and national – I wanted true diversity of thought and leadership; and I got exactly what I asked for.” D.A. is proud to be part of an organization which draws from BU’s trailblazing history and is establishing a lifelong foundation for how the University engages with its youngest alumni.

Becoming Chair of the Young Alumni Council

Chartered by the BU Alumni Council, which represents all alumni of the University, the BUYAC challenges the status quo and advocates for the programs and initiatives sought after by a global community of exceptionally talented young alumni. Noting how his role and the opportunity the Council poses is both “scary and exciting,” D.A. is thrilled to see “so much passion within the Council, which mirrors what I saw on campus as an undergraduate.” Taking from the successes during his time as Class Gift Co-Chair, the BUYAC has revitalized the Clubs and Organizations Challenge, raising $5,000 from a group of fellow young alumni to distribute as bonus funds to the 15 clubs and organizations with the most donors on BU Giving Day. “I never imaged what I began as a senior would grow to what it is today. It is amazing to see so many young alumni show their support for these organizations and challenge their peers to do the same.”

A firm believer in paying it forward, D.A. knows his role as Chair of the BUYAC is fulfilling his goal of building a more inclusive BU. Thinking back to some of the BU’s most inspirational alumni leaders, D.A. hopes he has kept their spirit alive in the policies, programs, and organizations he has been involved in over the years. Smiling while he admits he has “big shoes to fill,” D.A. carries BU’s legacy of inclusivity with him as he tackles every project. When asked what fellow young alumni can do to help him and the BUYAC, he immediately and enthusiastically says, “get involved, be willing to help; help build the BU that you wish you had. Whether it be with your time, talent or treasure – just give back.”